- Kids still have birthday parties long after their bar and bat mitzvahs
- People plan and pull off parties a few days ahead
- A party at home with friends and food is all it takes
- People clear their schedules to celebrate—births, birthdays, going to the army
- A last minute email invitation suffices
- No printed invitations, party bags, theme, decorations or fancy cake needed
- Nothing beats a surprise!
All year long, Simone has been helping her new friends celebrate their birthdays whether pizza dinner on a weekday evening or a slumber party on a Thursday (my girls don’t have school the next day). So when she realized her 13th birthday fell on a Friday, June 8, she was thrilled. Until she realized her abba (father) would be away on business. Then, when she decided she wanted a beach party but was told it was not an option, she was distressed. By the end, she said no to it all: no party, no friends, no nothing. All she wanted, she said, was to celebrate with her friends “back home”.
Being the overly bearing Jewish mother that I am, I decided to circumvent my youngest daughter’s wishes and take matters into my own hands. On Tuesday, I sent out an email to the parents of the 13 girls in her grade for a 10 am Friday morning chocolate chip pancake breakfast surprise birthday party at our house, instructing them to meet in the park outside and come as a group to the door. After talking with a fellow mom-friend, I decided to then invite the token three boys. By Thursday, I had received enough RSVPs to know I needed to buy milk and eggs, butter and flour to make pancakes for a small Israeli army.
Simone, meanwhile, was down, almost dreading Friday. Partly it was because we had no plan, she thought, and partly because she has been procrastinating for the past few months, putting off a big Family Roots project that is due on Sunday. Realizing she was out of time, she had no choice but to spend her birthday on the finishing touches: a map indicating the immigration pattern of her family dating back as many generations as possible, photos of generations past and old documents showing her family’s citizenship status.
By 9am, Simone said she was starved and I told her I was making pancakes but waiting for her brother and sister, true teens, to awaken. Unable to concentrate on her schoolwork, she foraged for food in the kitchen. Thirty minutes later, when her belly was full enough to focus on her schoolwork upstairs, I began pancake preparations in the kitchen. A half hour later, I could hear her friends laughing and talking in the park outside the kitchen window.
At 10:15, I yelled up to Simone to wake up her siblings and come down for breakfast, that the pancakes were ready. In the meanwhile, I went outside and waved to the kids to quietly come in… they marched single file up the stairs and into the house… just as Simone was coming down, still in her pjs, one of her school friends raced in the door to hide… causing Simone to smile and register the surprise, turn around and march upstairs to get dressed.
“I see Yael. I know you’re surprising me,” she said, her voice trailing off as she climbed the steps to her room to change. Kids hid behind the sofa and ducked in the stairwell to the yoga studio. They remained quiet and patient as my darling daughter took her time.
“Simone, Daniella, Benj, breakfast,” I screamed. “Please come down. Pancakes are ready.”
“I’m coming. I know my friends are here,” Simone screamed back. I blocked her out, too busy flipping pancakes in the kitchen and sneaking pictures of the kids hiding.
“Breakfast! Now!” I made one last effort, well aware that all of our neighbors probably thought they were invited too.
“OK, here I am,” Simone said as she waltzed down the last few stairs dressed to entertain in her jean romper.
“Surprise!” her friends popped out from behind the sofa and the stairs. “Mazel tov. Happy birthday!”
Simone smiled, wide, and hugged them hello. She was embarrassed and gracious and moved all at once. I took pictures to capture the kids in action as they sat and waited for food, talking mostly in English, a few in Hebrew. They are the mish mosh that makes Israel, born in or to parents fom America, England, Canada, South Africa, France, here. Before devouring dozens of pancakes, they hung out in the living room and after, they went outside with balls to play and scream on the grass.
Hot and sweaty, they returned to drink water and then relax, challenging one another on the Wii and then with cards and pick-up sticks. There was no specific end time or agenda. One by one, their parents called them on their cells to tell them they were outside waiting or to walk home. They gave Simone a hug goodbye and said thank you. Despite the last minute- and low-key-ness, her Friday morning celebration was good old-fashioned fun.